Reviews | Pennsylvania Governor’s Main Result Threatens American Democracy

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On Tuesday night, most eyes were on the main race of this midterm election cycle – the Pennsylvania Senate cliffhanger race featuring Trump-endorsed talk show host Mehmet Oz, whose results could determine which party holds the Senate next year. But the Pennsylvania governor’s main result is potentially much more important for the country’s political future. Republican voters overwhelmingly nominated State Senator Doug Mastriano, one of the nation’s most vocal deniers of the 2020 presidential election outcome. If Mr. Mastriano is elected in November, he could directly threaten the American democracy in the future.

Mr. Mastriano, a Trump sycophant, pushed aggressively to overturn President Biden’s 2020 victory in Pennsylvania, adopt the theory that the state legislature could overturn the results and name its own list of voters for Donald Trump. Mr. Mastriano urged the Department of Justice to get involved in the bogus allegations of fraud he sought to assert. Neither state GOP leaders nor the Justice Department followed suit, which is why his push did not result in a major constitutional crisis. If he is governor in 2024, there is no doubt that he would use his authority to reject free and fair election results, should voters favor a Democratic candidate in the crucial swing state.

His power over the process would be considerable. In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state, the state election official who certifies the vote count. The Governor also signs this certification. Mr Mastriano has previously said he will require all voters to re-register, a ploy designed to disenfranchise large numbers of people. In 2024, his secretary of state could also certify a list of rogue presidential voters, against the voters’ wishes, and send them to Congress to be counted. The Voter Count Act of 1887, the federal law governing how Congress counts electoral votes, could allow a partisan majority in the House to accept this illegitimate list, even if the Senate objects.

The alarming rise of Mr. Mastriano, and that of other election deniers who have won the GOP primaries this year, call for two urgent responses. Voters in general elections must reject candidates who, through delusion or partisan calculation, deny valid election results. Inflation, the war in Ukraine, gasoline prices, the covid-19 pandemic – none of these issues are as important as the preservation of democratic order. Americans should vote like that.

In the meantime, members of Congress must update and clarify the laws that underpin the country’s democratic system, starting with the old voter count law. It should be impossible for a partisan majority in Congress or the vice president to nullify a presidential election, or for a governor to submit a batch of bogus voters. Careful reform would raise the bar for federal lawmakers to oppose state voters while ensuring sufficient judicial oversight of the actions of state election officials. A bipartisan group of senators led by Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) are working on a bill. They must hurry; the window they have to legislate ahead of this year’s midterm elections, when control of Congress could be handed over to Republicans, is rapidly closing.